The friendship between an Auburn fan and an Alabama fan provided an opportunity for a life-saving kidney transplant


Watch the eagle soar before the game in Western Kentucky on November 19th.

The football teams at Auburn University and the University of Alabama have been arch-rivals for nearly 129 years. The first Iron Bowl game was in Birmingham in 1893, which Auburn won 32-22, and since then fans on both sides have shown their passion for their team and their resentment towards one another.

One day in 2004, Rebecca Colantuno walked into a Pottstown, Pennsylvania gym wearing her alma mater’s colors, a maroon t-shirt.

Colantuno, 49, graduated from Auburn University in 1996 and had several relatives who attended the university. She even got a matching maroon tattoo with her college roommate. Her friend has the word “war” and she has the word “eagle” on her wrist. Colantuno stayed in Auburn for a few years before moving to Conshohocken, Pa with her family.

The gym, The Maxx Fitness, was owned by Chad Watkins. Watkins, 45, is a lifelong Alabama fan. He never attended university, but he had several relatives who did.

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Watkins spotted Colantuno as soon as she entered the gym and asked, “Why are you wearing that trash shirt?”

“I just walked in wearing my auburn shirt and he just started harassing because Bama fans can’t harass when they see a auburn person,” laughed Colantuno. “From then on, we just clicked. We’ve been friends for 18 years now.”

The two continued to develop their friendship, which included plenty of banter and laughter.

Colantuno, her husband Damon and their four children and Watkins, his wife Kristy and their four children soon became family friends.

The first time they decided to watch an Iron Bowl game together was in 2013, and Colantuno said it was the first time she had ever watched a game with an Alabama fan before.

“After the game it was funny because we won in the last second and I looked at him and I was like, ‘You’re just a bad country song. We beat your team and I took your dog,” Colantuno teased. Watkins recently placed one of his dogs with Colantuno and her family.

kidney failure

A few months later, Watkins said he had become seriously ill, had been in a coma for about three and a half months, and his organs had shut down.

“About a year and a half later, I needed dialysis because I started retaining so much fluid that I was over 500 pounds and was just soaked with fluid,” Watkins said.

Dialysis is a treatment for people with kidney failure in which blood is drawn and put into a machine that filters waste products from the blood.

Watkins said that when he started dialysis treatment, he was put on a kidney transplant waiting list, a process that would take years. After losing the weight required to qualify for the procedure, he began considering telling people.

“I’m very, very reticent, I don’t like to open up or ask anything,” Watkins said. “I didn’t want anyone to look at me or treat me differently.”

Eventually, Watkins decided that we would start a Facebook page asking for a kidney donor, but he didn’t post it. Eventually his wife told him to publish it because people wouldn’t know if he didn’t.

“So one day I just plucked up some courage and hit publish, and about three hours later I had a ton of hits,” Watkins said. “The outpouring of love and affection and people really asking to get tested like I said was something I never expected.”

Colantuno said she found out about the situation on the social media page and got tested to see if it would suit her.

“Testing came back a few weeks later that there was a perfect match and we could just go ahead with testing and make sure things were good,” Colantuno said.

“When she told me, I said, ‘No, I’m not going to accept it,’ and she said, ‘Well, it’s not up to you,'” Watkins said, laughing.

Watkins said he didn’t want to have an emotional connection with the donor because he was afraid of what would happen if something went wrong, they had issues with the help themselves.

On July 20, 2022, the morning of the surgery, Watkins asked Colantuno if she was sure she wanted to go through with it, and she said there was no way she would step down.

“I love him and his family and his kids,” she said. “You mean the world to me, so this was a no-brainer. It didn’t put me off just doing it. He had to have it.”

Colantuno was released from Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia four days later, but Watkins had to stay until the kidney was working properly and was sure his body wasn’t rejecting it, which took a total of 24 days.

“It just took a while to wake up production-wise, so that was a tough time,” Colantuno said. “It was emotionally difficult for me because I felt like I was letting him down.”

This time Watkins was confident and reassured Colantuno and indeed the kidney started to work properly.

“I think the best thing about Chad at this point is his kidney. He’s got a maroon kidney and that’s going to make him stylish from that point forward,” teased Colantuno. “He will live forever now because he has a chestnut kidney. I grew it especially for him.”

Now these two friends are planning to get matching tattoos as an outward sign of their inner connection. The design will be the kidney awareness ribbon with the words “fearless and true” which is part of the Auburn battle song.

“She gave me life. What can I complain about?” said Watkins. “It’s an easy trade.”

Watkins and Colantuno both have powerlifting experience, but Colantuno is first and foremost a runner and Watkins was a former football player at Benedict College in Columbia, SC.

Colantuno recently finished the Chicago Marathon in October and Watkins has set his sights on joining her in a 5K in the future.

They also hope to spread awareness through their story. They said people looking for living donors mostly have to look for one themselves and act as their own marketing company.

As for those considering becoming donors, Colantuno said she wants people to know they will be able to go back to the normal things they were doing before the surgery. She ran a marathon ten weeks after her surgery.

“Don’t be afraid to ask,” Watkins advised those who need a transplant.

“And donors are not afraid to donate,” Colantuno added.

Watkins, Colantuno and their families plan to celebrate Thanksgiving Day together this year, and as for watching the Iron Bowl game together, they said they need to see if they still like each other.